Exploring Gorgeous Canyon de Chelly in Northeastern Arizona 1/3

From White House Overlook the 80-room White House Ruin, inhabited between 1040 A.D. and 1275 A.D., appeared to be swallowed by the massive burnt orange canyon wall.

The White House Ruin from the ridge of Canyon de Chelly in Northeastern Arizona. (Photo/Kendra Yost)

We hiked 600 feet down to the canyon floor passing smooth sandstone buttes along the way that looked something straight out of National Geographic Magazine. Stunning and unearthly. We walked over a swaying bridge that hung over Chinle Wash before reaching the ruins.

A large crowd of well-dressed French students followed close behind. The hum of French dialog echoed through the canyon making it seem like they were right on our heels.

The van that transported the French students to their visit to Canyon de Chelly in Northeastern Arizona. (Photo/Kendra Yost)

Protected by a chain link fence, the White House Ruins were constructed on the canyon floor and 50 feet up the cliff wall in a small cave.

The White House Ruin in Canyon de Chelly in Northeastern Arizona. (Photo/Kendra Yost)

Black streaks remained as stuck-in-time drips that oozed down the reddish sandstone walls above the White House Ruins. The streaks are actually desert varnish, which are formed by seeping water, which reacts with iron in the sandstone.

The White House Ruin in Canyon de Chelly in Northeastern Arizona. (Photo/Kendra Yost)

The Trek back up was a heart pounding thrill.

The 2.5-mile round-trip hike took about 2 hours and was the only lookout point that allowed for entrance to the canyon without a guide.


Even as an Arizona native I still didn’t know what to expect when my family and I decided to take an expedition to Canyon de Chelly.

Located in northeastern Arizona within the Navajo Nation boundaries, Canyon de Chelly (Pronounced “Shay”) was recognized on April 1, 1931 as a National Monument and is home to hundreds of ancient pueblo ruins.

The Navajo Nation sits on a little less than 600,000 gorgeous acres.

The name chelly (or Chelley) is a Spanish borrowing of the Navajo word Tséyiʼ, which means “canyon” (“inside the rock” or “inside of, within”).

Canyon de Chelly map.

Wild dogs and horses roam free within the Navajo Nation.  Perhaps old souls roaming their ancient land?

Howard, the camp host at Spider Rock Campground, greeted us as we drove into the desolate campsite. A necklace of native turquoise and orange argillite hung around his neck.

Howard, Navajo born of the Todachine’ clan and is of the people of the Tsegi area of Canyon de Chelly, was born and raised in the area of Spider Rock Campground.

We paid for two nights and a bundle of firewood.

A sign that read: “Indian Fry Bread for Sale” hung from the door of a miniature rundown vintage camper trailer.

The site was moist with soft clay-like mud from the monsoons and low-lying ponderosa trees surrounded us, offering seclusion.

The campsite bordered a three- mile roundtrip trail that led to the rim where Ledge Ruin is carved into the sheer canyon wall.

The fancy new propane stove we brought with us turned out to only take a specific type of propane bottle unlike the original size we had brought with us and find anywhere. This meant having to get crafty and cook over an open fire without a grate.

My husband, cussing and persistently tried to ignite the firewood in a light drizzle but the showers rolled in and the chance of a fire was nil.

The sun set behind a battered windmill that loomed in the backdrop of the gray, dusk sky.

Heading inside the tent to stay dry, we went without our planned dinner of bratwurst and asparagus and instead dined on pop tarts, tortilla chips, cheese dip and crackers inside the tent. No one seemed disappointed over the lack of a hot dinner.

I fell asleep to the soft glow of the Kindle upon my husbands and sons face. Raindrops tapped the vinyl tent roof as thunder rumbled gently in the distance.

I woke up cold. A pack of wild dogs rejoiced in a kill, hopping and hollering like a pack of drunken college kids.

I was given a packet from the Visitors Center for my son to complete in order to become a Junior Ranger. The sheet presented activities such as picking up trash (genius!), a crossword puzzle accompanied with information and facts about Canyon de Chelly and its people and required the names of at least two lookouts that he viewed.

Hunger raged so we shared a Navajo taco at the Thunderbird Lodge Cafeteria at the entrance of the monument. A Navajo woman sitting at a booth across the room grinned at me.

After lunch it was time to explore the North Rim of Canyon de Chelly.

Continued on Part 2


One thought on “Exploring Gorgeous Canyon de Chelly in Northeastern Arizona 1/3

  1. Pingback: Exploring Gorgeous Canyon de Chelly in Northeastern Arizona 2/3 | Slangshot

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